Nancy Fouts: The Surrealist disrupting the Everyday

"Fuck it if they don't want me."



Taken from Issue Three of Us of America. 


GAVIN TURK: So, Nancy, we’re at your house now, and this is also your studio, it’s also your showroom, and it’s also your gallery, and everything.

NANCY FOUTS: Yes, everything!

TURK: How do you distinguish between when you’re living your life and when you’re being an artist? How do you make separations? Or do you not make any separations?

FOUTS: Oh no, you don’t make any separations. It’s like that thinking that maybe you would have an idea if you were in a studio and you wouldn’t have an idea if you were sitting in the bath. It’s always ticking, isn’t it?

TURK: Art quite often has an interpretation element to it. It has, ‘Here’s the object,’ and then you look at it, and you go, “Okay.” Once I’ve established what this object is, I would then go, “What’s this object called? Who made it? When did they make it? Where were they living? Where were they when they made it? What’s the context that helps me to understand what this object is that I’m looking at?” [Laughs]

FOUTS: Yes, but sometimes... Let’s just think about using the house. I sometimes soak plaster-casts in the bathtub, sometimes you dye fabric and you need to dry it. So, having a home, it’s like it’s always here.

TURK: So basically what you’re saying is that some of the tools, the house tools that you have at home, are really important in the process in making your art?

FOUTS: Yes, I’ve got ice cream in the freezer and some dead birds. I’ve got them all over the place. And I like working in pyjamas. I like getting up in the middle of the night if I need.

TURK: But the ice cream is also informing how you’re thinking about the dead bird, but in a strange way. I suppose there’s a budgie and there’s a carrot, and then you kind of go, “Oh, I can see something with a donkey and a stick, and a bird on a stick.”

FOUTS: Gavin, it was ideal. Here they were, they had money. You got to shoot with the best photographers in the world, and you had a two-week deadline, and we need a rhino with a hat on it. Now, it wasn’t my idea, but it sure got me going on how to fucking do it. It’s like a roulette wheel, and the ball’s bouncing, and you got a deadline, and you got to finish it.

TURK: So it gave you a sense of how to run a job?

FOUTS: I can make anything!

TURK: So how did you come to “Oh, no, what I’m doing now is art”?

FOUTS: Oh, I wanted it all the time. In fact, we opened a gallery for a while. And the idea was, well, fuck it if they don’t want me, I’ll show myself and my husband. But, it was after I divorced and I was my on my own and my own boss as it were. Then, I had to be an artist. Besides the fact that—and it’s not relative, really—but advertising wasn’t the same anymore. It wasn’t anymore, because, one, the ideas weren’t great. Two, they Photoshop it to death so you even know it’s a cartoon and not the real thing. So it sort of blew me out of the water, and I had to find my own thing. But even when I was doing advertising, I was coming out with ideas, and nice things, and producing them. So, the gallery didn’t work, and eventually I am on my own and I just could do what I want…totally.

TURK: For me, engaging with your work is almost like, it’s just the idea of inhabiting a certain way of looking at the world. Obviously, piece by piece it is a great fun thing to look at, and going round exhibitions with you, I notice that your interest is sparked when you see something that tickles and makes you laugh, that makes…

FOUTS: [winks and snaps fingers] Yesssss!

TURK: When you see a circuit, you see yourself, seeing yourself.

FOUTS: Yes, or it’s almost there, but if I give it a little tweak to it, it would even be better!

Gavin Turk and Nancy Fouts. Photo: Nicole Nodland. 

Gavin Turk and Nancy Fouts. Photo: Nicole Nodland. 

TURK: [laughs] But I was thinking more in terms of…sometimes, with your work, it has almost like it functions in quite a specific way. Like it kind of plays on a pun, or plays on a way of speaking, a statement, a way of thinking. And it mixes text with images, closures with openness, and hits you with a kind of surrealism. But it somehow has a kind of clarity about it, as each individual piece does...

FOUTS: Yes, but that’s important! If that’s what my style is…

TURK: But I think that, sometimes with work like that it could somehow have a closure to it. We can almost become complacent. We look at the art, and we go, “All right, I got the art and that’s it, I don’t need it anymore.” But I think what is interesting and important about your work is something that you don’t really think about. It’s the idea of seeing it as a general approach to things, to stuff. We are continually bombarded with certain things that also mean other things, or certain ways of thinking that can be thought of in a different way. It’s like the idea of being able to free up…

FOUTS: Or don’t think you know everything, if you see a coconut look like a walnut. Then just say, “Well, that is a walnut on the floor.” Maybe what else could it be? Can’t they just be stupid enough to question more things? Naivety is lovely! Kids say the best things.

TURK: We spoke originally about you working in advertising but now, you’re an artist making art, so you have to deal with this thing, “the market”…

FOUTS: I don’t deal with them much.  It’s a lot of effort to be out there and expose yourself and so on, and keep going with galleries and so forth.

TURK: Obviously what you need is a museum. Maybe you need a museum show, or you need a big public show.

FOUTS: Yeah, I think it’s about time because I don’t think you can be alive and exist in the world if  you don’t do something at least every two years. I’m slowly fading away if I don’t do something good.


For the full feature, pick up a copy of Issue Three at select newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, or here


Words: Us of America